Bella’s recent immigration from an Eastern Bloc country to the United States presented a set of unique challenges, the biggest one being that we had to convince admissions committees that she would overcome the linguistic and cultural hurdles that had negatively impacted her performance at the start of high school.
Bella’s expertise in chess (national champion) made it tempting to sell her as a chess prodigy, but such an approach didn’t seem to fit her personality. I also wanted to avoid a generic “immigrant narrative”; it just didn’t seem novel enough.
The Admissionado Approach
My ultimate thought was to sell her as a sweet kid whose eagerness to please would not only pay off in the classroom, but on campus more generally. We emphasized her desire to continue her involvement with (and even found new) extra-curricular activities, presenting her as a community leader-in-waiting. The risk here was in not more explicitly foregrounding the immigrant narrative that was so important to her identity. Selling her as a “nice young woman who has the potential to become spectacular” would not have worked with ultra competitive Ivy+ admissions offices, but Bella was not going to have much luck at this tier anyway, so we needed an approach that would maximize her potential at the schools suitable to her particular level. We turned Bella’s biggest downside (her foreignness) into a positive by showing how she had so much energy and potential to contribute to an undergraduate student body.
Bella ended up matriculating at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign along with her brother, Gregor.
Bella was the sweetest kid. She was trying REALLY hard to fit into a (literally) foreign world; having the courage to face that challenge is what made her application a success.